Community service in Rwanda, also known as ‘Umuganda,’ takes place on the last Saturday of every month from 8-11 a.m. and has been practiced in different forms since 1962. During Umuganda, every citizen aged between 18-65 completes mandatory acts of community service. Here are five facts about community service in Rwanda.
5 Facts about Community Service in Rwanda
- Supporting Mental Health: Firstly, Umuganda has positive effects on people’s mental health. This is because one of the most common acts of community service in Rwanda is street cleaning and picking up litter. For example, Jean Luc, who lives in Kigali, goes to his neighborhood every month to pick up litter and clean the streets. Jean Luc’s community service helped improve the mental health of his fellow citizens. This is because a study by the University of Pennsylvania revealed that a clean, litter-free environment can reduce symptoms of depression by up to 68%.
- Improving Physical Health: Jean Luc’s services during Umuganda also protect people’s physical health. This is because he and his neighbors perform crucial work to ensure that bushes, which attract mosquitos, are always short. This prevents malaria and saves people’s lives. In Kigali, where Jean Luc lives, malaria cases have dropped by 89% over the past seven years, partially due to initiatives like Umuganda. While this is largely due to efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO), Jean Luc’s work has also been impactful.
- Building Infrastructure: Community service in Rwanda plays a crucial role in infrastructure development. Here, Umuganda brings communities together to build schools, repair roads and construct hospitals. The infrastructure development undergone during Umuganda has helped educate children, connect towns and villages and increased access to health care for Rwandans.
- Producing Economic Growth: Economic growth is another desirable by-product of community service in Rwanda. To elaborate, 80% of Rwandan citizens participate in Umuganda every month. While this is below the government’s desired 100% participation, it still generates a fantastic level of economic growth. Since 2007, community service has contributed more than $60 million to the country’s economy. Sustainable projects like this have contributed to the nation’s economic growth, which has seen a 20 times increase in the amount of collected taxes, a 14 times increase in the national budget and most importantly, lifted 1 million Rwandans out of poverty.
- Rebuilding a Nation: The most significant aspect of community service in Rwanda is its role in healing the country after the 1994 genocide. Umuganda helped forge a shared identity among Rwandans during the challenging post-genocide years. Communities came together to clean streets, build hospitals and offer services like carpentry for free. Additionally, Umuganda allowed citizens to meet with their political leaders to discuss the problems facing their community, which helped heal the wounds inflicted by genocide. Again, Jean Luc provides his insight, arguing that Umuganda has helped communities build bonds with one another, which has created a unified Rwandan identity.
The success of community service in Rwanda reflects the resilience and spirit of its people, demonstrating that prosperity and harmony can be achieved even after dark times.
– Tom Eccles